The reality of hunger for 42 million Americans today means choosing between food and electricity, skipping meals to feed a baby, and facing the stigma of food stamps at the grocery store.
The traveling art exhibit “This Is Hunger” arrived this week at Overland Park’s Congregation Beth Shalom on a 53-foot-trailer and will stay parked until Thursday. With the aid of interactive storytelling, a creative design team and photojournalist Barbara Grover, the exhibit reveals the largely invisible crisis of food insecurity.
Hunger is no stranger to any demographic, but often it is hidden in rural and urban communities, according to Samuel Chu, national synagogue organizer for the nonprofit Mazon. The Jewish group has been advocating for the fight against hunger in the United States and Israel for more than 30 years.
Mazon launched the free exhibit in Los Angeles in November. The trailer has visited 30 U.S. cities so far.
“Some would say Overland Park is a very well-off, affluent community. The reality is that hunger exists here, just like anywhere else,” Chu said. “It might be more hidden and unexpected, but it’s here. An effective response to hunger also requires everybody to step up to the plate.”
The exhibit is a multimedia interplay of black-and-white photographs teamed with the pained voices of Americans from all walks of life. They describe the struggle to afford nutritious food, followed by depression, deteriorating health and the chaos food insecurity causes. More than 13 million children and almost 6 million seniors were highlighted as the most vulnerable populations in the exhibit.
Chu said the interactive storytelling stopped in Overland Park because it serves as a reminder that every community can be plagued by food insecurity.
Chu said Mazon wants people to walk away from the exhibit realizing it could be their neighbor, friend, or it could even be themselves.
“Something you’re not able to control might happen tomorrow,” Chu said. “Just as we want people to expand the understanding they have about why hunger happens, we also want to expand how they respond to it.”
Normally, Chu said people will donate food to pantries and serve homeless people a hot meal.
“The reality is that if you add up all those efforts, charitable efforts we have in this country, they’re not enough. It’s just not enough,” Chu said.
Jo Hickey, director of the nondenominational Kansas City Jewish Family Services Food Pantry, instantly jumped on exposing the “This is Hunger” to the area.
“The most surprising aspect of this is the variety in the faces,” Hickey said. “It’s your grandparents, your neighbors, many of the kids in your child’s class that may not know where their next meal is coming from.”
For more information, visit thisishunger.org. Free tickets are available online.